Synopsis: A lonely self-help author perceives everyone as identical until he meets a unique woman in a Cincinnati hotel.
Directors: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Release date: 11 March
Running time: 90 mins
Co-directed by writer Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York) and animator Duke Johnson (who did the stop-motion episode of Community), Anomalisa was crowd-funded into a feature production via Kickstarter.
Unfolding entirely in stop-motion animation and using just three voice actors, the film feels entirely unique, presenting a deeply strange worldview that is alternately haunting, darkly funny and profoundly moving.
The film focuses on down-in-the-dumps self-help author and motivational speaker Michael Stone (voiced to perfection by David Thewlis, retaining his native accent), who travels to the aptly-named Hotel Fregoli (thank you, Google) in Cincinnati to give a speech.
Michael’s depression is compounded by the fact that he perceives everyone around him as the same person (all flatly voiced by Tom Noonan), so when he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh, wonderful) in the hotel and she appears to be an anomaly with her own face and voice, he’s instantly captivated and invites her to join him in his room for a late-night drink.
While the use of puppets initially seems like a gimmick, it quickly becomes apparent that the story couldn’t be told any other way.
At first, Kaufman uses them to cleverly establish just how horrifically depressing Michael’s world is, before offering a potentially life-changing note of hope with the introduction of Lisa; accordingly, their burgeoning romance is deeply moving, because we keenly feel just what her existence means to Michael.
“Thrilling rush of human connection”
In detailing their over-the-course-of-a-night relationship, Kaufman’s script perfectly captures the thrilling rush of human connection, but, Kaufman being Kaufman, that happiness can’t last, and the latter part of the film is both brilliantly observed and profoundly upsetting.
Along the way, Kaufman pulls a number of different emotional strings, often within the same scene: highlights include Lisa singing Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (heart-breaking, then hilarious); an explicit puppet sex scene (at first amusing, in the style of Team America: World Police, but then quietly moving); and a terrifying nightmare sequence where, again, the use of these particular puppets seems genuinely inspired.
The production design is exquisite, and there are several delightful details, such as the puppet version of black and white classic My Man Godfrey playing on the hotel TV.
Unique and inspired, Kaufman’s brilliantly constructed tale mixes hope and heartbreak to devastating effect. Unmissable – and set to be one of the best films of the year.